Recapping Carbon County's economic development efforts
The status of economic development efforts in Carbon County can be witnessed as people drive along Utah Highway 10 toward Emery County.
First, the travelers pass a 20-year-old partially developed industrial park to the right below the Four Mile Hill.
Some of the industries located in the spot have to do with coal mining. But the industrial park also includes a heavy equipment truck driving training center for College of Eastern Utah as well as the county's animal shelter.
As motorists pass through the hills and begin to descend the road leading to Hiawatha Junction, they can see a second industrial area, one that is only a few years old.
The streets and improvements are completed at the industrial area, but only one lone building currently stands at the site.
Turning left on Ridge Road, travelers can see a construction company yard as well as an on- and off-again lumber mill. A short distance down the road, people can spot a fairly new facility that caters to mines and equipment needs.
Sporadic industrial sites are spread across Carbon County, ranging from diesel repair shops in Helper to the landfill in East Carbon. The area represents a type of golden triangle of hopeful industrial development.
The areas are probably where non-mining connected major industries or smaller companies deciding to move into Carbon County would locate.
There is space, there is the infrastructure and there is also cooperation between governmental and private individuals to make it happen with a variety of incentives.
With programs and infrastructure already in place, many residents wonder why businesses and jobs have not come to Carbon County. But when good-sized companies have considered locating in the county, it seems like the businessmen making the decisions whittle the choices down to two or three sites and select a different area for the economic boost.
"It's hard to know," points out Delynn Fielding, the county's economic development director. "The reasons are as varied as the number of businesses that are out there looking for a place to settle down."
Fielding has been on the job for three and one-half years. He has wined and dined dozens of potential businesses and developed incentive packages to attract companies into Carbon County.
A few smaller businesses have moved to the local area, but larger companies have tended to drift to different locations.
Often, the county is not the right area for a certain kinds of businesses exploring for a location.
Once a business comes to the county and visits other locations, another site frequently rises to the top of the company's site selection list. When that happens, the business seldom gives an explanation for the decision.
Sometimes, there is also a misunderstanding or a breakdown in communication, especially when the communication between local officials and the interested businesses is not direct. A good example of that is what happened earlier in the week.
Frequently, businesses are guided to Carbon County by the state office of economic development.
Several weeks ago, Fielding was informed by the state office that a telemarketing company from Denver would like to look at locations in Carbon County for an inbound call center.
The initial information from the state office indicated that the Colorado company was looking for a 3,000 to 4,000 foot building where up to 150 people could work.
Fielding immediately started searching for sites meeting the designated size. But a few days ago, the economic development director received an e-mail explaining that the original space requirements were wrong and the company was looking for 1,500 square feet.
Fielding immediately attempted to arrange appointments for company representatives to walk through buildings meeting the space requirement.
The business was set to visit three areas in Utah, accompanied by a state official. In addition to Carbon County, the areas included Vernal and Ephraim.
After the entourage left Vernal on Tuesday and headed toward Carbon County, Fielding received a call from the state official indicating that the square footage in the e-mail was wrong. The business wanted to look at buildings with around 15,000 square feet or 10 times the space.
Fielding scrambled to find appropriate buildings and arranged to show the company representatives two potential sites. But one building was smaller than the business had requested.
"They were not happy and very abrupt with us," stated Fielding. "They decided not to stay and went immediately to Ephraim."
Plans had been made with numerous county residents to meet with the business representatives, including a dinner with local officials Tuesday evening. The plans had to be cancelled when the company representatives cut short the visit.
Recruiting businesses is a difficult task. Economic development tends to depend on the whim of the people making the companies' decisions.
In recent months, Fielding has been working on a promising project with a company named Tartar Gate, based in Kentucky. The company manufactures gate and fencing products and competition for a plant has been stiff. Until recently, the choice came down to Carbon County or the Brigham City area. But in the last month or two, Cedar City slipped into the mix.
Despite strong lobbying by Fielding and local community members, the company's decision still has not been announced.
"I am sending them another e-mail today to find out where they are at," said Fielding. "I'm just not sure what else we can do to get them here."
Fielding feels the effort to get Tartar Gate to locate in the county has been one of the best since he started in the economic development director position.
"The cooperation between everyone to get this company here was unprecedented," pointed out Fielding. "Private individuals along with government officials offered incentives and cooperation in many ways. The place where it may be built is actually within the Wellington city limits, but entities such as Price city stepped up to the plate to help, too. That shows real cooperation."
In an age of stiff competition for businesses, local incentives are often not enough.
At a Price River Water Improvement District meeting last year, Fielding outlined what businesses expect and are frequently offered in other cities.
A citizen in the audience questioned giving companies tax breaks or incentives to move into Carbon County.
"It's the way the business of attracting businesses to an area is done and, if we want to compete, we need to do the same thing other cities and counties around the nation do," responded Fielding.